Dreams are full of features that distinguish them from waking reality. These features, known as dreamsigns, can serve as signals that you are dreaming.
While dreaming, you do not ordinarily think about the uniqueness of your experiences. You simply accept what's presented as real. If you do happen to notice that a situation is odd, you're more likely to justify the experience rather than realize it is a dream. For example, if you notice a new, large crack in the foundation of your house, you may be quicker to reason that an earthquake must have created it rather than consider you could be dreaming.
Although you're biased to think this way in dreams, you can train yourself to think differently by strengthening your mental associations of dreamlike events with remembering that you're dreaming.
Dreamsigns can be described as events that have a lower probability of occurring in waking life. They often appear in the form of something unusual or unlikely, if not impossible, in physical reality. For instance, you might dream you're divorced when you're actually married, or you're in a strange, new place that's outside the usual range of your daily routines.
From another angle, dreamsigns can be understood as events that have a higher probability of occurring in the dream state. In other words, these events are distinctly dreamlike or highly characteristic of your personal dream life. For example, you might often dream that you're unable to find something, such as your parked car or your hotel room. You may have difficulty remembering things as well as you usually would, like forgetting when you enrolled in a class. You may notice that you regularly experience certain emotions, like surprise or confusion, in your dreams, or that while dreaming, you often have the thought that something is peculiar.
To improve your awareness of dreamsigns, you'll need to regularly practice identifying them from your personal dreams. After you record a dream, highlight which elements in the dream were signs that you were dreaming. You can make a list of all your dreamsigns in one place so you can review them periodically and get better at recognizing them in future dreams.
INTEND TO NOTICE DREAMSIGNS
Dreamsigns can be thought of as memory targets. Using intention-setting strategies, you target your dreamsigns as signals to remember that you're dreaming.
The recurring quality of some dreamsigns can be especially useful. Since you can expect a recurring dreamsign to appear in the future, you can focus your mind to notice it the next time you encounter it during a dream.
Is it possible to spontaneously remember that you're dreaming without being cued by a dreamsign? Yes. However, your mind is constantly processing information from your environment, whether you're aware of it or not. Dreamsigns still prime the mind for lucidity, even if you weren't conscious of a precursor. It is more efficient to focus on noticing dreamsigns to cue lucidity, as opposed to trying to become lucid at some vague future point in time.
Adventures in Lucidity
I was having a series of dreams in which wolves were threatening me. I'd be staying in a cabin in the wilderness with friends when wolves would begin to surround our abode. Fearing for our safety, I would run, hide, or try to defend us.
When it became clear that these wolves were repeat visitors, I knew I had to become lucid in my next dream of wolves and face them. Determined, I set my mind to realize I am dreaming the next time I encountered a wolf.
Sure enough, the wolves returned. I was sitting cozily near the fireplace with friends. The cabin became abuzz about a pack that was dashing toward us.
“A wolf?” I stood up with conviction, “This is a dream!”
A silver wolf charged through the door. It pounced on me as I welcomed it with open arms. I fell back in my seat as it nuzzled me sweetly. I petted it and thanked it for being there. It grew agitated, growling as I held its head in my hands. I offered comfort, softly stroked its ears, and asked, “How can I help you? What do you need from me?” It calmed down again, licking my hands and face.
I was elated that I was able to transform a series of stressful dreams into one that was peaceful and thought provoking. To this day, wolves have not returned as nightmare figures. I also became more aware of how wolf symbolism had begun to weave its way into my ongoing search for meaning and self-understanding in my waking life.
Dreamsigns present themselves in a myriad of ways. You can grow more astute at recognizing them by getting to know the underlying categories that tie their seemingly disparate features together.
LaBerge conducted a series of studies of the varying ways dreamsigns appear. Then he condensed them into four categories: form, context, action, and inner awareness. "Action" and "inner awareness" were the dreamsigns categories most likely to result in lucid dreaming. Dreams that contained a higher number of dreamsigns were also more likely to produce lucidity.
PRACTICE POINT: Log and Categorize Dreamsigns
Review your dream journal entries to identify the features in your dreams that are dreamsigns. Then create a list that logs all your dreamsigns in one place. Next to each dreamsign, write down whether it best fits in the form, context, action, or inner awareness category. Circle, underline, or highlight dreamsigns that tend to recur.
Make sure that you're identifying a balanced number of dreamsigns from all four categories. Sometimes, a dreamsign will fit into more than one category, depending on what dimension of consciousness you are focusing on. In the classic dream in which you can't run because your legs are paralyzed, for example, the inability to move would be in the action category, while the heavy sensation in your legs would be in the inner awareness category.
Continue to add to this list as you recall more dreams. Remind yourself that the next time you encounter these or other dreamsigns, you will remember that you are dreaming.
Excerpt from 'Learn to Lucid Dream: Powerful Techniques for Awakening Creativity and Consciousness by Kristen LaMarca, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2019 by Callisto Media, Inc. All rights reserved.